Vincent Orange (Courtesy photo)
Vincent Orange (Courtesy photo)

The District’s universal paid leave law faced a six-month review by the D.C. Council recently with some residents saying adjustments should be made to reflect the needs of workers and others satisfied with the way it exists.

In the District, as of July 1, 2020, people who work in the city are eligible for paid leave from their employers under District law. Options available to employees are eight weeks of parental leave to care for a new child whether it be through childbirth, adoption or foster care; six weeks of family leave to care for a seriously ill offspring, parent, grandparent, spouse or sibling and two weeks of personal medical leave if the employee has a serious health condition that prevents them from physically or mentally performing their jobs.

D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), who chairs the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and a supporter of the paid leave law, said the program has worked well since its inception.

“The program was launched on time and in the middle of a pandemic,” Silverman said. She praised the D.C. Department of Employment Services Director Dr. Unique N. Morris-Hughes for shepherding the program in addition to other projects that had to be done with COVID-19 ravaging the District.

Silverman said paid leave provides economic security in times of crisis whether an employee has to take care of an ill loved one or themselves. She said since its launch, the paid leave program has processed 4,800 claims and said 1,750 of those claims went to District residents.

Silverman acknowledged many District workers live in neighboring states and are the beneficiaries of the city-funded program. She also said District residents who work in the neighboring states don’t have access to the paid leave program.

Gavin Baker, a Ward 4 resident, complimented the program but said some adjustments need to be made. He noted he and his wife have an infant daughter and costs have incurred since her birth.

“The maximum benefit we get is less than what we earn if we were working,” Baker said. “It doesn’t help us with infant care. It costs $24,000 a year in D.C. to pay for infant care. You are hit with a double whammy of paying for infant care and having reduced pay to take care of your children.”

Baker urged the council to provide more cash to low income and working-class employees. Plus, he said the federal government offers up to 12 weeks of paid leave and Canada extends up to 35 weeks and those facts should be kept in mind when the council considers revising the program.

While Baker supports the paid leave law, former Council member Vincent Orange has his reservations. Orange served on the council representing Ward 5 from 1999-2007 and 2011-2016.

Orange also served as president and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce from 2016-2020. Orange said the paid leave law has few benefits for District residents.

“The paid leave law excludes 94,000 D.C. residents from coverage,” he said, speaking mainly about District residents who work in Maryland and Virginia. “On the other hand, 320,000 non-residents are eligible under the law for paid leave. The problem is that states like Maryland and Virginia don’t provide reciprocity to District residents who work there. Those District residents have no paid leave law to benefit from.”

Orange said the paid leave program amounts to a $250 million tax on businesses in the District. He noted non-residents are aided to the level of $160 million from the taxes supporting the program as opposed to east of the Anacostia River residents who only receive $12 million in benefits.

Orange said Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) offered an alternative to the present paid leave structure. Cheh, said Orange, wanted the District government to assess non-residents in the form of a fee to pay for the program.

However, Cheh’s idea didn’t have the support of Silverman and her council allies and it died.

Fred Hill III, the founder and CEO of Gotta Go Now, a portable sanitation company based in Ward 8, said he complies with the paid leave law.

“It’s the law and I have to deal with it,” Hill said. “It forces me to raise costs to comply. I have to do something for employees who are getting paid but not putting the work in. I agree people should be protected when an issue in their lives comes up.”

Hill notes the paid leave law leaves no room for employee shenanigans.

“The law clearly states that if it is found an employee is abusing the process by pretending to be sick and they are not or if they say they are taking care of a sick relative and they are not, that’s theft and grounds for termination,” he said.

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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